The discussions covered economic and development partnership as well as trade, investment, and investment
India “deeply values” its close friendship with Bhutan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after meeting Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in New Delhi on Tuesday. “Pleased to receive His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. We had a warm and productive meeting. Deeply value our close friendship and the vision of successive Druk Gyalpos in guiding India-Bhutan relations to new heights,” Prime Minister Modi tweeted. The bilateral meeting covered the entire gamut of India-Bhutan cooperation and also issues of respective national and mutual interest, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said at a special media briefing. The Bhutan King spoke about the transformation and reform initiative that the country is currently undertaking; Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s continued and full support to the socio-economic development in Bhutan. According to Foreign Secretary Kwatra, five broad issues were discussed: 1. Economic and development partnership: This covered cooperation for Bhutan’s 13th 5 Year Plan, support for the reform process in Bhutan, and project-based development partnership. 2. Trade, connectivity, and investment cooperation: This saw discussions on infrastructure connectivity – rail, air, inland waterways, digital, as well as people-to-people. 3. Long-term trade facilitation measures for economic growth and prosperity of both the countries. 4. New paradigms of energy cooperation: This would strengthen the existing framework of hydropower cooperation and also this carry forward to the non-hydro renewable energy space. 5. New areas like space, start-ups, cooperation in the field of STEM education. The visit comes amid Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering’s comments that China has equal say in resolving the 2017 border dispute in Doklam. Foreign Secretary Kwatra, however, described the visit as one that had been long in the planning. "India and Bhutan share an exemplary relationship which is characterized by trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding," he pointed out. The time-tested nature of this friendship was reflected in the support India provided Bhutan during the Covid-19 pandemic and the expansion of their partnership into some new and emerging areas and domains of economic partnership, the Foreign Secretary noted. This includes the digital domain, space, financial connectivity and increasing interoperability, hydroelectric power, he said. Asked whether the Doklam issue figured in the talks, Foreign Secretary Kwatra said India and Bhutan remained in close touch relating to security cooperation on matters of respective national interests. “We have a time-tested framework of security cooperation and as part of that both countries maintain a long-standing tradition of very close consultation on matters relating to their mutual interests and security,” he said. He added that the Indian government very closely follows developments that have a bearing on national interest and would take all necessary measures to safeguard them. The King of Bhutan arrived on a three-day visit to India on Monday, accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Tandi Dorji, and other senior officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who received him at the New Delhi airport said the visit will “further strengthen” the close and unique India-Bhutan partnership. Announcing the visit on Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had said it would provide an opportunity to both the sides to review the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and to further advance the close bilateral partnership, including economic and development cooperation. CLOSE ECONOMIC & DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION India has been one of Bhutan's main development partners over the years. Bhutan has benefited from Indian assistance in the fields of infrastructural development, hydroelectric power, health & education, and space. The Indian Government has been providing assistance to Bhutan’s Five Year Plans (FYPs) since 1961. For the XII FYP (2018-23), the assistance is to the tune of Rs 4500 Cr for various multi-sectoral Project Tied Assistance, Small Development Projects, and Direct Budgetary Support. Indian assistance has ensured the installation of over 2000 MW of capacity with four mega hydro projects since the 1980s; two projects are under construction. In November 2021, the Government of India had formalised the opening of seven new trade routes for Bhutan’s bilateral and transit trade with India. Prime Ministers of the two countries had jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station of the South Asia Satellite (SAS) in Thimphu in 2019. The facility has been constructed with the support of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In November 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between India and Bhutan on cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space; training of domain experts is underway. The India-Bhutan SAT was launched into space on November 26, 2022 by ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The Ground Earth Station for the satellite was inaugurated during the visit of the ISRO Chairman. Bhutan will receive high-resolution photos from the India-Bhutan SAT for the management of its natural resources.